By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 22, 2008 - Training Afghan security forces is the key to success in the country, but the effort continues to be plagued by a shortage of trainers, the general in charge of that training said today. Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commander of the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, said Afghanistan has "made positive strides in fielding professional security forces that are competent, diverse and capable of providing security," but that much remains to be done.
Cone spoke to reporters gathered at the Foreign Press Center here in a teleconference from Kabul.
The command is responsible for training Afghan soldiers and police. The Afghan National Army is doing quite well, Cone said, but the police need continued work.
The idea, the general said, is to get the Afghans in the lead.
"I think the objective of CSTC-A would be to allow the Afghans to provide for the defense of Afghanistan," Cone said. "I think Afghan soldiers see things in Afghanistan when they conduct operations that Westerners do not see, based on cultural and ethnic backgrounds that they understand."
The command has about 8,000 personnel -- 3,000 civilians and about 5,000 military. About 800 members are from coalition countries. The command does not fall under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force; it is under U.S. Central Command control.
The situation in the country has become more dangerous. The Taliban and other terrorists have launched a number of attacks on Afghan and coalition forces. "That is, of course, of concern to certainly me, because my forces are out in the battle space," he said.
Still the Afghan military has stepped up, with roughly half of the forces battling the Taliban being Afghan security forces.
"Afghans learn by doing, and in fact, the way you get better at these combat operations is in fact to go out and execute them," he said. "So as enemy attacks have stepped up, I would argue that this year, the capability of the Afghan Army –with some 63,000 troops in the field and another 9,000 in training – has really allowed the coalition to have a response for that with the Afghan contribution."
Police training continues to be a problem, the general said. "Right now the number is about 2,300 police trainers that we are short," Cone said. "Again, we think that it is a joint responsibility of all of the nations that are contributing here in Afghanistan. We ask for their support."
Countries from around the world are working with U.S. police trainers, with the majority of the trainers coming from the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany. There are roughly 79,000 police in Afghanistan, but the quality varies.
The major reform effort has been "focused district development" a program that retrains police forces, district by district, with heavy emphasis on values, constitutional responsibilities and rule of law, Cone said.
Cone praised the efforts of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marines, who deployed to Afghanistan in March. The unit is working to train the police.
"Some of the districts that we've put police in have not had police in them in years, and in fact, the Marines established that security environment and then they have professional police trainers that work with the Afghans," he said.
Cone said he is optimistic about the progress of the Afghan security forces. He said any long-term solution in the country depends on Afghans picking up the security mission.
"Much work remains, however, and it's important that the international community understand and support this critical mission so that we may have a safe and stable Afghanistan," he said.